The watch world, in many ways, has flipped upside down since the time I was searching on the internet for someone to answer my 10 Questions. That time there were no crazy waitlists, no Instagram, a LOT less choice (especially in India), more diversity in collections and a ton of stories that remained to be uncovered.
There are so many great resources out there now, depending on which genre or segment in watches you lean towards. Yet still, dipping your toes into watch collecting can feel a bit daunting at first. There is too much choice, too much information (which isn’t necessarily always useful) and limited room for missteps and mistakes given that monetary stakes are generally high.
With that in mind, here’s a list of questions that we gathered by asking some new watch guys the things they weren’t quite sure about. We found these to be quite relevant for anyone getting into watches, starting a watch collection or just looking for their one-nice-watch.
Your Top 10 Questions
- Is a mechanical watch better than a quartz watch?
- What’s an in-house movement? Why do people make a big deal about it?
- Why are watches so expensive?
- Is it possible to build a watch collection on a budget?
- What are some features to consider when searching for a watch?
- What watch size is right for me?
- Is there such a thing as the Best Watch Brand?
- Apart from watches, should I be spending money on anything else in the hobby?
- Are there any common mistakes I can avoid?
- What do I need to be careful of when wearing my watch?
The mechanical vs quartz (battery watch) conundrum hits hard when you first start looking at watches somewhat seriously. This is also where objectivity and reason generally go for a toss.
The answer? It depends. And impossible to answer without making certain generalisations and assumptions.
But hold up. What’s a mechanical watch anyway? A watch that runs on mechanical power, not a battery. A spring (called the mainspring) is wound – either manually through the crown (hand wound) or by the movement of your wrist (automatic). As this spring unwinds, it delivers energy to the gears and levers that ultimately move the hands on the dial. In order to ensure that only the required level of energy is delivered at a given time, and preserve the remainder for keeping the watch running for a longer period, there is a regulating organ called the escapement, which controls the energy flow through oscillation. This is, of course, just a very basic and conceptual explanation.
In accuracy terms, most mechanical watches are inferior to quartz watches. However, nowadays, accuracy really isn’t going to be your number 1 criterion when looking to buy a watch. So then why is a mechanical watch considered ‘better’? Among other reasons because it respects and carries forward a tradition and technology that hasn’t let us down in a few hundred years. It’s got a quaint appeal.
Today, not all mechanical movements involve significant human intervention; in fact most don’t. But because of their inherent ‘mechanical’ nature, they’re easier to fix should something go wrong, in much the same way that good leather footwear can be repaired and renewed as opposed to, say, synthetic sneakers which go straight to the bin. This lasting quality of mechanical watches is part of their overall appeal. We also find the gears-and-levers working of these watches easier to identify with as opposed to a battery and an integrated circuit. Vinyl record vs MP3 player.
Let’s not forget here that, broadly speaking, quartz gets a bad rap because it tends to be found in cheaper watches that often don’t make a very strong case for themselves in design or quality terms. This is simply because quartz movements (and watches) can be made quite cheaply, compared to their mechanical counterparts, without much careful thought or attention to detail.
Correspondingly, when watches are made with an eye on good design, quality and longevity, they tend to use mechanical movements since it’s a more coherent choice to achieve the goals of that particular timepiece.
There are notable exceptions, such as Grand Seiko with their 9F movements and Longines with their VHP collection that approach quartz through the lens of quality and chronometry. So don’t bother when people turn their noses up on your quartz Tissot with half-knowledge. It was a quartz Tissot that got me hooked after all.
The phrase ‘in-house movement’, over the last decade or so, has become all the rage. It’s something no one really cared for in the 20th century, as long as a watch did what it was supposed to do. For better or for worse, it has now become an indicator of prestige, seriousness of the brand and, most importantly, marketing mileage.
What’s funny, though, is that there is no official or universally accepted definition of what constitutes an in-house movement. If there’s truly one grey area in the watch industry, this may be it.
A movement is generally considered in-house if the brand or watchmaker are responsible for fabricating the movement as well. But the spectrum of its import is simply too wide. Let me demonstrate.
- Some brands use off-the-shelf (or base) movements (ETA, Sellita, Miyota, Seiko or others) and state it as such
- Some brands use off-the-shelf movements and just relabel them as Calibre xyz
- Some brands regulate the base movements in-house
- Some brands modify or replace some parts of the base movement in-house
- Some brands use the design or architecture of an off-patent movement and make it in-house
- Some brands cooperate with other brands that belong to the same group / conglomerate to develop movements
- Some brands outsource proprietary movement development to specialists and credit them as such (some don’t)
- Some brands develop new movements in-house from the ground-up due to their scale and capabilities (yet still procure some components like hairsprings from outside suppliers)
- Some brands develop new movements in-house from the ground-up due to them being a boutique operation
So then where do you draw the line?
Many people citing it as imperative may not quite be sure themselves, actually, why it’s an in-house movement they’re looking for in a watch.
So should you get carried away by this nomenclature? Not really. It depends on the brand and the watch. If you aren’t spending on a very high-end timepiece where you’re investing in an artisan or a particular brand story, you’ll truly be better off getting a watch you’ll enjoy for its design or, for instance, the occasion it marks, rather than where its movement was made. For a consumer, on its own, without other context and reason, an in-house movement genuinely means very little.
Like some of Omega’s in-house movements have a different escapement mechanism (the co-axial) altogether, Rolex’s in-house movements make sense because of the kind of production control they desire in order to offer a certain quality assurance, Nomos’ in-house movements are exciting because of the price they’re able to offer it at, Jaeger-LeCoultre have a storied history as a maker of movements. The list goes on. There’s context and reason. Not just-because.
But this doesn’t make Longines, IWC or Oris lesser brands for offering many of their watches with third party movements. Also remember that popular off-the-shelf movements like the ETA 2824 are far easier to service or repair than a proprietary mechanism.
Taking the service point further, since the boom in number of in-house movements is relatively recent, the potential flip side of the market flooded with these proprietary mechanisms may only be known once a large percentage of people who have bought such watches start to send them in for service, or when things go wrong once the timepieces enter their double digit years.
Watches can be expensive, but as brands like Seiko or Tissot have shown, they can be accessible too, without compromising on robustness, refinement or joy. There’s a whole lot of fun that can be had with a Swatch, G-Shock or HMT.
Outside of their inherent positioning as luxury or Veblen goods, you do start to see where that extra money is going as you handle more watches belonging to higher price points. Quality of materials, better finishing, tighter tolerances, ergonomic details and finesse in design are just some of the things that are visible enough in most cases. Climb a segment higher and this extends to aspects like movement finishing and level of handcraft involved as well.
In recent times, however, we’ve really seen the rise of the value-brand. At least in the enthusiast market, what’s common to watch brands that have witnessed a surge in popularity in the last 4 or 5 years is an explicit intention to offer good value. Whether you look at Oris, Grand Seiko, Tudor or Nomos; they each appear to punch above their weight, as they say. So, there are lots of options to get bang for buck.
Hell yes. And you don’t even have to take my word for it. The internet is replete with forum threads, articles and videos about doing exactly this; even at different price points. Watches can be pricey, there are no two ways about it. So it can be an unrealistic expectation for watch boxes to always be overflowing with big names and holy grails.
As I said above, there’s a lot of fun to be had with Seiko, G-Shock, Tissot and the like. Don’t be intimidated by Instagram. Start wherever you can. As long as you’re doing it for yourself, you’ll find joy in abundance. Because remember, even someone wearing a Greubel Forsey knows someone with a more expensive timepiece. That’s not where it’s at. Enjoy the journey.
My Seiko SARB033 (which I bought for under ₹25,000 or $350), even today, is among the watches that gets most wrist time.
To make a very broad generalisation, most of us would be happy if our watch(es) could have the following attributes:
- Solidity, in a way that you’re not afraid of wearing it regularly
- Versatility, so that it can go with most attire and outfit
- Lifestyle-fit, so it can accompany you on work as well as recreational activities
- Longevity, so you can rationalise the financial investment and consider passing it down
- A good fit on the wrist, such that it’s harmonious and pleasing
The sheer variety on offer in the market goes to show that one size truly does not fit all. In fact, a great charm with an object like a watch is that you can really find something which feels to you as if it were self-expression through its design, qualities and capabilities.
So when considering feature set, it helps to look for the following:
- Sapphire crystal, for scratch resistance
- A fair degree of water resistance; 50m is usually fine for swimming; 100m where greater water pressure may be involved
- Whether it offers any complications you would find useful in daily life? Such as a chronograph, day of the week, second time zone or countdown timer.
- Case size which sits well and elegantly on your wrist (42mm dress watches don’t look that great on many wrists, for instance. Trust me.)
- Does the brand have a service network if something goes wrong? What warranty do they offer? What service intervals do they recommend?
- Is there a variant of the watch that is offered on the bracelet (it’s best to buy this, even if you like the strap better; getting a strap later is much easier and more cost-efficient than a bracelet)
Don’t look at these paper specifications all that hard, though. The heart wants what the heart wants. What’s most important is that you get something which you’re likely to wear often with joy and not get bored of. I have an Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch, which is all kinds of wrong, if I go by the above checklist (just 50m water resistance, 42mm size, acrylic crystal) – but what a smile it puts on my face when I wear it.
This is completely a matter of wrist size and personal preference. However, the 21st century has been dominated by large, substantial watches, even as we see that trend start to recede to some degree. 42mm seems to be the sweet spot, as far as market preference goes, but more and more people believe this veers on being large. Especially for watches that are a little more dressy or come with sparse dials.
A generally cited rule of thumb is that the extremities of the case (i.e. where the lugs end) should stay within the contours of your wrist. This is the maximum-possible-size approach, which, according to me, is a strangely placed goalpost. To make the largest watch you can possibly wear as the determinant undermines the overall style and visual effect of it.
Historically (what are sometimes referred to as classical sizes), most men’s watches were 33-37mm for dressy models and 38-40mm for sporty models. This seemed to work just fine for many decades, until size became the extravagance.
So while there’s no right answer, it helps to know that men haven’t always worn watches this large, the standard size of the iconic Rolex Datejust is (still) 36mm and that a well fitted watch that doesn’t overpower your wrist will likely be easier and more comfortably satisfying to wear.
Stick to your personal preferences, don’t listen to the noise.
There is an element of subjectivity when Best is used standalone. It gets even harder when you consider the spread of the price points involved. So no, there is no straight, single answer for which is the best watch brand.
By most estimates, though, Rolex has the highest revenue of all watch brands, as well as brand value ascribed by studies and reports. In the grand scheme of things, their desirability is unparalleled, reliability is staggering and quality irreproachable. They do make a really solid watch, no matter where your personal preferences and experiences with the brand lie.
As the watch internet has grown, many other heritage brands have also gathered a cult-like following, such as Omega, Seiko, A. Lange & Söhne and, of course, Patek Philippe.
For most mainstream brands where you spend upwards of ₹150,000 (~$2,000), quality is usually pretty good, so it’s worth finding something you truly like, as opposed to getting sucked into what’s considered best. Diversity is the best part of the hobby!
Yes, buy some good straps! They can dramatically change the perception, look and feel of a watch and really transform a watch into something you hadn’t expected. This keeps things fresh and exciting without having to necessarily think about purchasing another watch. You can just make your current watch new all over again. And I’m not even overstating this.
Experimenting with and changing the straps on your watches is easily the most underrated or unspoken aspect to enjoying your watches more. Brands like Cartier and Vacheron Constantin have even started introducing quick-change systems where you can remove and replace a strap just by the press of a button. However, changing the strap on any other watch you have is something you can easily do at home with a basic tool; even if it doesn’t have such a quick-change system.
Ever since I started swapping straps on my watches, it’s really changed the game for me. One day I’m wearing an Omega Speedmaster on its bracelet, another on a textured black strap, before effortlessly moving to a distressed olive strap. One watch, many moods. Also, don’t be afraid of splurging or indulging a little more than what generally sounds reasonable. The extra spend pays off in a really big way, as I’ve come to experience. I actually have watches where the strap on them costs more than the watch!
If you have multiple watches, it also helps to get a box or case in which you can safely store your watches together. The extras are endless, but straps, changing tool, storage case and a microfibre polishing cloth are a pretty good place to start.
If you’re just kind of starting to get into watches and building a collection, chances are you want to get your hands on a lot of different watches and you want them fast. You’re looking for sales promotions and deals online, checking off enthusiast favourites and thinking of all the various categories of watches you’d want to have in your box (pilot, field, diver, dress, chronograph, bronze, the works..).
That itself is perhaps a summary of mistakes you can avoid.
Impulse purchases, getting a watch just because it was a good deal, buying too many watches too fast, looking at quantity over quality – that’s one subset. It’s common to not pause and listen to your own tastes and choices, but rather go after what everyone else is doing. This invariably leads to regrets later. As does buying the ‘affordable alternative’ to a watch you really want, unless you’re truly in love with that watch on its own merit. And don’t get too hung up on value retention and potential resale. Do your research, enjoy the watch and try to make it your own, rather than thinking of a future situation of letting it go (before it’s even reached you!).
Another thing I’ve noticed quite commonly is judgment and negativity towards brands, watches or collectors that lie outside a person’s own realm of affordability. The horological joys you close yourself off to by doing this are tragic, honestly. I truly believe you don’t have to own something to appreciate it. Imagine what would happen to the world of art if this started happening there – the museums would be empty.
You know, a well-made watch is capable of far more than you’d imagine. It’s a rather sturdy machine and it’s largely due to its price tag that we tend to baby it around. It doesn’t need that. Unless you’re regularly subjecting it to extreme environments like dragging it through the mud or deep sea diving, your watch is going to be just fine.
It helps to know (or remember) that wristwatches were used as real tools in the 20th century; by soldiers, pilots, adventurers and divers alike. This is arguably when manufacturing processes were less sophisticated than they are today. So take it easy, wear the heck out of your watches and make your own memories with them. The tiny scratches will stop bothering you a lot sooner than you expect. Because the watch will then truly be yours.
Notable omission: Are watches a good investment?
Yeah, because this is no fun. And no, they’re not.
Do you have any more questions? Drop us a line below – we’ve got you covered.
Amish is a Watch Expert, certified by the FHH (Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie) in Switzerland, and founding editor of Winding Ritual.